Teaching at Hyper Island – Week 3

By the third week of teaching the Understanding People module at Hyper Island in Manchester things got serious; we went through the process of synthesis and sense making. We did it in just one day.


Moving from the foggy start of the day surrounded by post-it notes to a coherent end point was tough but very satisfying. I was joined by two fellow IDEO Design Researchers – Jenny Winfield and Kate Wakely. They brought great experience and knowledge to the day and helped each team to shape their research into a clear set of insights, themes and opportunity areas.

This was probably the hardest and most enlightening day for the group. The feedback at the end of the day was very positive and it’s testament to the abilities of each and every member of the Digital User Experience cohort as it was a new process for them all.


Synthesis is a simple concept but a difficult process; you learn it by doing it. I learnt what I know from working alongside more experienced colleagues and observing the way they approached the challenge. The IDEO designers worked alongside each group throughout the day. This certainly wasn’t about giving some tips and letting them try it alone.

As with previous posts from my work with the group, I’ve picked out a few points that generated discussion

Synth setup basics


Five rules for a successful synthesis session – preparation is everything.

1. Close laptops, phones on silent. Get rid of anything that will distract you. You need to get lost a little, and your email beeping will break this up. Print out your photos, and your notes should be handwritten (as you wont have used a laptop to make note in the first place).

2. Everything in one space. Before you begin make sure you have enough post-it notes, wall space, pens, paper and anything else you’ll use to capture a structure your ideas. You should also have all of your downloaded research activities in the room with you. If you haven’t downloaded everything, do that first.

3. Snacks and sugar. It can help to have a few snacks in the space with you. It’s a draining process and so you might find you need the sugar/coffee/tea close to hand to get through it. Going to get a drink will be the first thing that breaks up your flow; once it’s broken it’ll take at least 15 minutes to get back up to speed. If anyone needs to go to the toilet, go now. And wash your hands.

4. One conversation at a time. This is one of IDEOs Rules of Brainstorming, it’s vital for several reasons: making sure only person talks at a time means that everyone hears what is said. It means that the group’s focus in magnified in one place and not dissipated around the room in multiple conversations. It’s also polite to listen to everyone, it signals that everyone in the room is of equal importance – and if they are in the room, they are.

Rules of Brainstorming

5. Explain every Post-it note – tell stories. When you take it in turns to share an observation or quote make sure to explain it fully. If you don’t understand a post-it note ask the owner to clarify it. Everything that comes out of the session is owned by everyone involved. It’s your responsibility to understand everything.

Spatial memory

During this week’s synthesis session I reflected on the physical nature of post-it noting in a room surrounded by other post-its. It struck me that the process is no accident. As a group, when we structure our shared intelligence as many small fragments stored spatially we essentially create an external map of our collective brain.

When you move, or introduce a new post, it’s vital to explain it; everyone needs to understand and agree with it. Don’t just read it out, tell the story that inspired it.

Once it’s placed you aren’t allow to move it without everyone seeing where it moved to and from.

In doing this you build the shared brain of the group. Sticking the post-its onto walls means that you make use of people’s spacial memory skills. Humans are wired to remember things spatially, think about how easy it is remember the route between your home and work. It’s an amazingly complex sequence of stages, but you make it without thinking. Laying out the thinking from a group synthesis session spatially means we can literally free space in our brains and store ideas in a way that’s easy to find later.

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else.

The fog

One of the most disconcerting things that the group experienced is sometimes known as ‘The Fog’. It’s the murky place you might find yourself in as you complete your research phase. You bring together your notes and start to wonder if any of it makes any sense.


It’s marks the point of maximum divergence. The notion of divergence is sometimes expressed as a Double Diamond or a graph line. They both point to the process of exploring and looking outward, at first it’s fun – but after a while it gets a little uncomfortable.

This is the fog.

You can’t avoid the fog, and nor should you. It’s a natural part of the creative process, the best thing is to recognise it. You might even come to love and embrace the fog. But only if you have a clear path forward.

The next step will be to synthesise your ideas, it begins with downloading – you can read more about that here:

Design Research–From Interview to Insight: Part One, Summarising the Interview

Next week, final presentations.

Cars of the Future

A simple post, some light research. Getting inspired about designing the information landscape inside a car by comparing various Sci-Fi views of the future.

I copied this idea from some smart person, if you know please let me know because i’d like to reference them.

Total Recall

Johnny Cab


The Fifth Element

Fifth Element Car



Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 16.09.53


Blade Runner

Blade Runner Car



Moon Interface


2001: A Space Odyssey2001 Interface




Alien Interface


Matrix Reloaded

Matrix Car


Captain America: Winter Soldier

Captain America



Need For Speed

Need For Speed

Cab Insights

When you spend you life doing design research two things become common: firstly you get used to chatting to people and finding interesting stuff out from them; secondly you spend a lot of time in taxis.

These two things obviously collide quite often, and in London the legendary taxi drivers are often a chatty bunch. So if you ever get into a black cab in London you’ll almost certainly hear their views on the world as they see it.

(Of course their particular set of views and opinions tend to be some what questionable, but if you can get them away from politics and foreign policy you might just find some thing interesting).

Here’s what I found out on a recent trip:

1. Chip and Pin card readers

Chip n Pin
Chip and Pin reader

Paying by anything other than cash in taxis in London is usually very difficult. The few that do have card readers are often out of order or broken. Or are they? Well, probably not.

It seems that the financial charges and administration that comes with these systems is more than most cabbies care to get involved with. It’s not uncommon for one driver to borrow another’s cab, and in this situation paying by cash is much easier for them to deal with.

The simple world of ‘cash-in-hand’ suits the transactional realities of cab life. There’s an opportunity here.

2. Green Badges and Yellow Badges

London Taxi Licence
London Taxi Licence

There are two types of black cab driver: those who’ve done ‘The Knowledge’ and those who are learning it. If you’ve passed you have a green badge, if not you’ll have a yellow one. Yellow badge drivers have a local area that they can pick up passengers in, green badge drivers are allowed to pick up people anywhere in London.

If you’re in an outlying areas of London and spot a yellow badge, beware that if you ask for a destination across London they might not know the route. It’s probably worth checking. Or in my case, he was relying on a Sat Nav.

Also, yellow badge drivers will get dirty looks from green badge drivers in central London. “What are you doing on my patch?”

3. Advertising

How much money do you think a cab driver gets to have his taxi wrapped in an advert for 1 year?

Wrong (maybe).

Apparently, £1000. Which seems pretty low. In San Francisco drivers more like that amount each month. I’m not sure if this an amazing insight, but at the very least if we all group together we could ‘buy’ a taxi for the year and have our faces on it.

4. The Knowledge in tough. Really tough.

Learning the Knoweldge
Learning the Knoweldge

Anyone who’s spent time in London will probably be aware of the The Knowledge. I’ll leave it to others to explain the details, but essentially its a test of geographic knowledge of the whole of London. You should be able to get into any black cab in London and ask for any destination of the thousands and thousands of streets and the cab driver should be able to get you their by the quickest route.

When you think about the reality of knowing the name of every single street in London it’s quite a mind bending feat. When you think about the mental capacity needed to link them all together it becomes astonishing. Then think about not just the route between two places, but the most efficient route. It sounds basically impossible. But it gets tougher.

Testers are know to ask for the route to very obscure places, a recently opened restaurant for example. By name only (no street address). And the example my chatty cabbie gave doesn’t even have a sign on the street front. It’s a well hidden little place. Now think about how many of them must be across the metropolis of London.

Now plan a route between two of them.

That’s what The Knowledge is.

Remember that next time you get into a black cab.

Un-inclusive Inclusivity Document

As part of the work i’m doing at AIG on a building in Manchester i’m consulting the Design For Access 2 document issued by Manchester City Council

I can safely say that this is one of the most unpleasant documents i’ve ever read, not because of the conent, but because fo the horrendous colour choice they’ve made.

Presumably this meets some esoteric metric about maximum contrast (and therefore legibility) but the result is something that can barely be read for bursts of more than 10 seconds.

In attempting to be inclusive they’ve positively discriminated me as someone with good, normal eyesight. This is an amazing example of the power of box ticking in ruining design processes.

It also raises the ongoing presumption that all disability groups can be lumped together and catered for with singular and fundamentally thoughtless approaches.

Have a look at this page and see if you can bare to read it:

Google the not so great

A couple of aggregated quotes from Google:

We’re not editors, we never will be


we use a broad set of signals to come up with what are hopefully the most interesting suggestions


We get the data for Google Maps from various different third party providers, such as Yellow Pages listings, or through trawling the web


The Google Books settlement is injecting more competition in to the digital books space, so it’s understandable why our competitors might fight hard to prevent more competition